by Dennis Mathes
TUSCOLA – The Routt football team’s hopes were soaring.
Trailing 29-26 in the closing minutes, the Rockets had stopped Tuscola near midfield and forced the Warriors to punt. Routt crossed midfield with less than a minute remaining, driving with a chance to tie or win the game.
Then, a Tuscola defender stepped in front of a pass downfield from Kohen Hoots to Ryan Oswald. And just like that, the season was over.
Routt lost to Tuscola 29-26 in the second round of the IHSA Class 1A state playoffs on Saturday in a game that easily could have gone either way.
Routt scored on some big plays, and made some big stops at critical points in the game. But the Warriors made a few more plays, and that was the difference. Both teams left the field exhausted.
“We had a big chance,” Routt coach Barry Creviston said. “I don’t fault anybody on my team. We just played great. Tuscola played fantastic today. They really stepped it up. I don’t know how much they threw for, but we just couldn’t stop the quarterback power. They did a great job running the football.”
That Routt even had a chance at the end is a tribute to this team.
“It was an awesome game,” Routt senior Colton Decker said. “It was really fun to play. Everyone played great on my team – the other team as well. Tuscola’s a great team. So, props to them. It just came down to the last second. You know, it’s really hard to make a game-winning drive at the end of the game. There’s a lot of pressure there.”
Routt trailed 29-19 with 5:06 left in the contest. But the Rockets rallied. Stuck at their own 36 on fourth-and-eight, Hoots completed a 26-yard pass to Oswald to move the ball to the 38. On the next play, Will Jackson, who rushed for 156 yards on 13 carries, ran around the left end all the way to the end zone to cut Tuscola’s lead to 29-26 with 3:38 remaining.
Routt came within an eyelash of recovering the onside kick. But then the Rockets’ defense held Tuscola to five yards on three plays, and the Warriors were forced to punt from the Routt 44.
Routt took over at its own 17 with 1:40 left. Hoots hit Dax Baptist near the sideline for a first down, then completed a pass to Oswald over the middle to move the ball to the 47. Hoots hit Aiden Lahey to move the ball into Tuscola territory, at the 40, with under a minute to play. Tuscola intercepted the next pass at the 20 with 37 seconds remaining, then took a knee to end the game.
Hoots turned in one of his best performances all season, completing 14-of-19 passes for 155 yards. “He had a fantastic game,” Creviston said.
The Rockets scored first on Saturday. Hoots ran 15 yards for a touchdown as Routt broke on top, 7-0, with 6:23 left in the first quarter. Tuscola answered, driving 70 yards in 10 plays, tying the score 7-7 on a three-yard run with 2:12 left in the quarter. The point-after kick started wide left, then was blown through the uprights by the gusting wind.
Routt, which had avoided injury all season, lost Hoots late in the first quarter. Creviston said the senior quarterback thought his knee had popped, but it worked itself out, and he came back into the game late in the first half.
In Hoots’ absence, backup QB Kellen Creviston led the Rockets to the Tuscola 7 before completing a swing pass to Jackson for a touchdown. But the play was called back on a holding penalty. Two incompletions ended the drive at the 18.
Tuscola took over on downs, then fumbled the ball away on its first play from scrimmage. But Routt was turned away again, going backwards to the 28 before turning the ball over on downs with 7:58 left in the half.
Tuscola made its next possession count, putting together a 16-play drive, scoring on a 13-yard pass on fourth-and-nine to take a 14-7 lead with 42 seconds left in the second quarter.
Routt kept it close in the third quarter but never caught up. After holding Tuscola at the Routt 5-yard line on fourth-and four, the Rockets scored when Jackson broke up the middle, pushed away a tackler near midfield and ran 69 yards for a touchdown to cut the Warriors’ lead to 14-13. Oswald’s kick hit the left upright.
Tuscola scored on its next possession, driving 76 yards in 13 plays, then finally punching the ball in on a two-yard run to make it 21-13 with 11:28 left in the fourth quarter. But Routt answered back, scoring on a 26-yard pass from Hoots to Baptist. The 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete, and Tuscola led 21-19 with 8:51 left in the game, setting up the memorable finish.
“We definitely did all the things today that we had talked about all week,” Creviston said. “We were just three points shy. Hat’s off to Tuscola. They’re a great football team. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. But my team’s pretty good, too. I’m proud of everything they’ve done.”
After winning just two games in each of the past three forgettable seasons, Routt finally made its mark in a season that will be remembered for many years to come.
This loss hurt.
“It hasn’t really set in for me yet, but it hurt a lot,” Decker said. “The last game in my high school career. I’m not going to play in college anywhere, and a lot of the other guys aren’t, either. So it’s just our last football game, man.
“It’s really tough.”